It was warm humid afternoon and I was driving back from lunch when I noticed a new place had opened up in Chester-le-Street.
The first thing anyone does when they want to find out about anything from illnesses to train times it to get on to Google and research it. If it isn’t on the internet then I want to know more about it especially when it comes to Chester-le-Street. I did find some prior knowledge about the cafe before my visit which helped in understanding a little more about what was taking place.
I find it disturbing and very sad that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world there are still people who are struggling to make ends meet that regularly go without a decent meal. All of us have read stories before about people those who have very little or no income using the facilities of food banks.
Now some organisations have claimed over winter there has been a rise in those who are in paid employment turning to these organisations. We need to be honest an open about how we use AND waste food in the UK. It is reported that up to 7 million tonnes of edible food is being sent to landfill each year while 8.4 million people are regularly going hungry.
I managed to grab some time with a manager who was one of a few dedicated volunteers that set up the cafe. Mim Skinner is one of the people who set up this project and she kindly answered some questions.
Me – What is this cafe all about?
Mim Skinner – It’s a cafe that serves food that normally that would go to landfill food that is surplus from food manufacturers, business or restaurants. One of the biggest of the suppliers that we use at the moment is Amazon who has a food distribution centre in the Team Valley along with a ready meal manufacturer that produces quantity packs of thousands (which some still have use-by dates of up to six months) These will be deemed a surplus to requirement.
Me – It’s not just food that could be going off?
M.S. – There will be stuff that’s passed its best before date as that’s a policy label rather than a safety label. That means you aren’t putting anyone in danger you are using your head you know if some vegetables are wilting we won’t use them but we are happy to serve things that are past their best before date as that is legal.
Me – So are using food that is surplus and adhering to common sense and hygiene? (I read that they have a 5* rating for food hygiene)
M.S. – We have the same food hygiene and any other guidelines as other catering businesses. In terms of supply and storage and things like that, we have the same rating or better than other catering companies.
What would be the main message of the company?
M.S. – We can talk about food waste but when you come into the cafe and have a three-course dinner that’s destined to be binned it’s about raising awareness and the environmental side of is a big part of it. The other side of it is about social inclusion. Whether they have time money or skills.
Me – Is it a free cafe?
M.S. – It’s a not a free cafe. I think if we said that the food is free that means we are saying that the food doesn’t have value. We should be giving back its value and people to have a huge amount of value and that’s not counted by the amount of money that’s in your pocket. We wanted to say that you have something of huge value in their time, skills and in their kindness. You can pay with that …
Me – I read that you have even catered for weddings.
M.S. – Yeah, we have done four now and a couple of christenings. Weddings are again such fun as it’s a massive statement about food and the quality of food as well.
Me – Is it just in Chester-le-Street or are there other places like this around?
We are part of the ‘Real Junk Food Network’ there are ones that are national and there are ones in Newcastle pop up restaurants and looking to start something more permanent and there are two but our other side of the business is social so this means ‘Pay as you Feel’ they can come if they have time, skills or money.
Me – I have friends who have kids and they’ve asked about places that are ‘child-friendly’. Are kids okay to visit?
We made the cafe not too tightly packed for two reasons one because we wanted to kids to have space and the other is wheelchair access. There is an area for kids which has toys and colouring. (I mention that some kids I saw were engaged and not bored or being told off by adults.)
Me – Can you take the food away?
People can order take away lunches and takeaway drinks as well that there is as a community fridge which is based on the same principle of ‘Pay as you Feel’ which contains things that people can take home.
Monday Thursday Friday and Saturday – 10 – 4
(They are hoping to open up on a Tuesday as well when they have trained up more volunteers)
Wheelchair access. Yes. No problems. Flat from the street no ramps.
Toilets. Yes. Plus an accessible toilet for wheelchair users.
Provides for vegan, vegetarians on those on gluten-free diets.
Walking in to Refuse Cafe I felt an overwhelming sense that you were welcomed those from all backgrounds. No matter what age or nationality, rich or poor and old or young. I made it in mention my background that I was part of the church and I was gay. I was informed that they had also provided some catering for the Pride Event in Durham last week.
Their policy is about inclusion. Everyone should feel welcomed. To me, it’s a refreshing idea. We are living in a time where budgets are tight and there isn’t a huge amount of disposable income. The sensible thing to do it to address this problem by being responsible with the food that we grow and eat.